St. Clare was born in Assisi, the eldest daughter of Favorino Sciffi, Count of Sasso-Rosso and his wife Ortolana. Traditional accounts says that Clare’s father was a wealthy representative of an ancient Roman family, who owned a large palace in Assisi and a castle on the slope of Mount Subasio.
As a child, Clare was devoted to prayer. However, at the age of 18 she heard Francis preach during a Lenten service in the church of San Giorgio at Assisi, and asked him to help her to live after the manner of the Gospel.. Inspired by his words, Clare asked Francis to help her in dedicating her life to God, and he vowed to do so. The following year (1211), Clare’s parents chose a wealthy young man for Clare to marry, but she pointedly refused.
On the evening of Palm Sunday, March 20, 1212, she left her father’s house, and accompanied by her aunt Bianca and another companion, proceeded to the chapel of the Porziuncula where Francis received her. There, her hair was cut, and she exchanged her rich gown for a plain robe and veil.
Clare’s sister Agnes soon joined her, and they moved to the Church of San Damiano, recently rebuilt by Francis. It wasn’t long before other women joined them, and San Damiano’s residents, known for their ascetic lifestyle, became known as the “Poor Ladies.” (Known as the Order of San Damiano, 10 years after Clare’s death the order would be renamed the Order of Saint Clare.)
Saint Clare’s sisters lived in enclosure, since an itinerant life was hardly conceivable at the time for women. Their life consisted of manual labour and prayer. The nuns went barefoot, slept on the ground, ate no meat and observed almost complete silence.
Clare cared for Francis toward the end of his life and was with him when he died in 1226. After Francis’s death, Clare continued to promote the growth of her order, writing letters to abbesses in other parts of Europe and thwarting every attempt by each successive pope to impose a rule on her order which watered down the radical commitment to corporate poverty she had originally embraced. She did this despite enduring a long period of poor health until her death. Clare’s Franciscan theology of joyous poverty in imitation of Christ is evident in the rule she wrote for her community and in her four letters to Agnes of Prague.
In 1224, the army of Frederick II came to plunder Assisi. Clare went out to meet them with the Blessed Sacrament on her hands. Suddenly a mysterious terror seized the enemies, who fled without harming anybody in the city.
Before breathing her last in 1253, Clare said:
“ Blessed be You, O God, for having created me. ”
Despite ill health, Clare continued to promote the growth of her order until her death in 1253. In August 1255, Pope Alexander IV canonized Clare, and today the Order of St. Clare numbers more than 20,000 sisters worldwide, with more than 70 countries represented.